Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Bunning Seat -- William Logan

And so now we come to the election of 1818, which brings a new Senator to the Bunning Seat. William Logan does not have a county named after him and was not born within the current borders of Virginia, but he is interesting all the same.

As you will remember from your seventh-grade Kentucky history class, Harrodsburg is the oldest city in Kentucky -- founded on June 16, 1774 by James Harrod and 31 other men. It is almost literally impossible for us to imagine what that was like -- a group of people going off on their own to conquer new land, fully accepting the likelihood that they might have to kill other men in order to survive. In fact, the town was abandoned soon after it was settled. But the men who founded Harrodsburg were not easily discouraged, and they soon built a fort. One of their leaders was Benjamin Logan (that's who the county was named for) and on December 8, 1776, his wife Ann gave birth to a son within the walls of the fort. William was thus one of the first white children ever born in Kentucky.

Benjamin Logan became the first sheriff of Kentucky County, Virginia on December 31, 1776, and he remained a great power throughout his life. He was always going to state conventions, leading regiments, and running for governor (he never quite made it, coming in second to James Garrard in 1796 and in 1800).

His son William represented Lincoln County at the 1799 Kentucky Constitutional Convention, served as Speaker of the Kentucky House, and became a judge in 1808. In 1818 he defeated Richard Johnson by a vote of 67-55 to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.

At this point, things started to go wrong. You have to remember that up to this point, Kentucky has generally been booming: people are moving in, new towns and settlements are being built, and credit is readily available. For the first and last time in history, Kentucky seems to represent the future. Consider this: in 1813, ten of the 183 members of the House of Representatives -- meaning that Kentucky's population then (relative to the rest of the country) was comparable to a state the size of Pennsylvania today. In short, Kentucky was a big, growing state.

You also have to remember that politically, the country was remarkably unified. After Jefferson crushed Adams in 1800, the Federalist party faded away, leaving politics dominated by the rural Jeffersonians in the Democrat-Republican party. Every Senator we've seen since Humphrey Marshall ran as a D-R. Meanwhile, the Presidency rotated from one gently cultured Virginian to another -- eight years of Jefferson (1801-1809) followed by eight years of Madison (1809-1817), and eight years of Monroe (1817-1825). They called it the "Era of Good Feelings," and for rural white voters, that's what it was.

All of this peace and prosperity ended (in Kentucky, at least) soon after William Logan went to the Senate. The Panic of 1819 -- they didn't waste their time on weasel words like "recession" back then -- was the first major financial crisis in the United States. Suddenly, many Kentuckians who had borrowed money in anticipation of huge growth found that they couldn't repay their loans. Kentucky's Democratic-Republicans split between those who wanted debt relief and those who were more sympathetic to creditors.

Into all of this controversy rode our old friend John Adair -- the military guy who had been accused of colluding with Aaron Burr. He was still around, and in 1820 he was running for governor on a pro-debtor platform. On May 28, 1820, William Logan gave up his seat in the Senate to run for governor as well.

It was quite an election. There were two other candidates: Joseph Desha (who would be elected governor in 1824) and Anthony Butler (a hot-head who later played a role in breaking Texas away from Mexico). Once again, the Logan family came up just short:

Adair: 20,493 votes
Logan: 19,947 votes
Desha: 12,418 votes
Butler: 9,567 votes

It was the end of Logan's political career. He died on August 8, 1822 and was buried near Shelbyville.

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